The state of Georgia is bereft of any sort of legalized gambling aside from the lottery, but over the last few years, support for a new gaming industry – land-based casinos specifically – has slowly built. Last week, the Chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts spoke in front of the Rotary Club of Atlanta, pitching his vision for a billion dollar resort-style casino in the city. Mgm casino.
The main reason more and more people have become interested in the possibility of casinos in the state is to help fund the HOPE Scholarship and public pre-K programs. These programs are currently funded only by the state lottery and have become so popular that it is becoming more difficult for the available money to keep up with demand.
The HOPE Scholarship helps students pay for tuition at in-state schools. Students must earn at least a 3.0 grade point average in high school and continue to perform academically in college to continue to earn the scholarship. In order to preserve HOPE Scholarship funds, the program stopped paying for books and fees in 2011 and in 2015, new “academic vigor” standards were instituted, essentially making it more difficult to earn the award.
A pair of bills were introduced last year that would have legalized casino gambling in Georgia and would have authorized the construction of up to six casinos around the state. Taxes would have been 12 percent of gross gaming and would have gone towards the HOPE Scholarship. The bills died in the state House earlier this year.
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MGM had presented its idea for a giant resort-style casino – including hotel, restaurants, shopping, and a concert hall – before. In this presentation at the Rotary Club of Atlanta, MGM CEO Jim Murren explained that his company’s research indicates that Georgians spend $600 million at casinos outside of the state, money that would obviously benefit Georgia if it stayed in-state.
He told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Atlanta is a “tremendously appealing market” and that his company could spend more than $1.4 billion on the casino project. He estimated that the property would create 4,000 jobs.
Local business executives are skeptical, worried that an MGM property would hurt their businesses. Central Atlanta Progress, a local business group, commissioned a study that determined that a casino would cannibalize business in Atlanta. The thought was that most entertainment dollars would come from area residents and therefore be funneled away from existing venues, like the Fox Theater.
According to the AJC report, Fox Theater president and CEO Allan Vella, asked Murren how MGM would “protect” incumbent venues, saying, for example, that MGM could pay more for musical acts that would normally perform at the Fox. Murren said that his company would a “great ally not an adversary.”
No specific location has been pinpointed for a casino, but MGM wants to be near the airport so that business travelers and convention visitors (Atlanta is a major convention city) would have easy access.
Of course, this being the South, local religious leaders aren’t necessarily thrilled with the idea of casino gambling. Mike Griffin, public affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, told the AJC, “I think one of the most egregious things I hear in all of this is that it’s all for the children,” referring to HOPE Scholarship funding.
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